Have you ever received a Christmas card from your mail carrier? Left a holiday tip for the paper boy? As the end of the year rolls around, these are fairly common practices around the country. But do you know where they come from?
These traditions are part of a long history born from something known as the “carrier’s address.” During the 1800s, Ohioans would have opened their newspapers at the end of the year to find a page of poetic verse detailing the last year’s events, wishing them well in the New Year, and asking for a little extra cash for the delivery boy (who in some cases was the printer’s apprentice, or printer’s devil.)
Men of a variety of professions began making these sorts of holiday asks in England in the 17th century, however the first well-known example of a true carrier’s address comes from Pennsylvania. In 1720, Philadelphia poet Aquila Rose acquiesced to the begging of the printer’s boys and wrote them an address requesting “A Silver Thought, express’d in ill-shap’d Ore.” Carrier’s addresses gained steam in the 1700s, but by the 19th century they were truly commonplace across the United States.
A floral-decorated, color cover to the Galion Democrat Address for January 1872. VFM 3930.
While at first they appear ephemeral, we can now see that these carriers’ addresses provide an important insight into the development of American class dynamics, the tipping economy, and the development of news media- three topics that are just as relevant today as in the 19th century.
The actual verse present in these addresses can also teach us much about our shared past. In many cases, newspaper men hired local writers and poets to compose the verse. While the newspaper carriers may have signed the address, it was rare that it was actually written by them. Students of American poetry can use these addresses to trace local trends and to view the work of average American poets who maybe never made it big, but continued to write.[iii]
Additionally, poets writing carrier’s addresses attempted to recount the events of the previous year for their readers. This description is a great way for historians to gain insight on local events, and on local opinions of national or international events. For example, many of these addresses began to mention tensions between North and South long before the Civil War. In this 1851 address from the Hamilton Intelligencer, the poet writes “Disunion, now is the cry from all sides…”
Local: “Altho’ my muse hath soard of late,/She now returns to her own State:/Tho’ slow she seems in all her movements,/She’ll show you our canal improvements;/ From Erie’s shore to Licking summit,/Long since the boats are known to run it;/The main Canal with all her feeders,/Must sure suprize [sic.] our Southern readers.”
“ The Printer’s Devil, most wondrous civil/ Presents his New Years lay:/ In hopes that all, who read this scrawl,/ Will be inclin’d to pay-/I seek not wealth, by right or stealth,/ Tho’ oft my burden’s heavy,/Yet this address, you must confess,/ Is worth a fip or levy>;/ And when you’ve read, what rack’d my head/Tho’ much I hate to say it: It strikes my mind, you’ll be inclin’d,/ And quite resolv’d to pay it.”
By the early 1900s, the carrier’s address had become a thing of the past. However by looking more closely at these small pieces of archival ephemera, we can learn so much. The Ohio History Connection’s collections include multiple carrier’s addresses, many of which you can see below. You may also be interested in checking out any of these sources that were used to write this blog post:
Liberty Hall and Cincinnati Gazette New Year’s Address, 1833. VFM 3928.
Western Spectator and Athenian Chronicle New Year’s Address, 1834. VFM 3943.
[i] Jackson, L. (2008, January). We Won’t Leave Until We Get Some: Reading the Newsboy’s New Year’s Address. Carriers’ Addresses. Retrieved from https://library.brown.edu/cds/carriers/essay_jackson.html.